The term “gray divorce” was coined to refer to a divorce that occurs after a couple is 50 years old or more. Now, being in my early 50’s I can relate to the “gray” part of this term, though I might not like it, even though I do my best to cover up my “wisdom highlights” to keep that younger appearance.
So this is a divorce that impacts those who are primarily empty nesters and retirees, even grandparents. And this is a growing trend. From 1990-2010, “gray divorce” has doubled. Statistics from 2021 show that 34% of divorces were in this category, with predictions that it triples by 2030.
So why is this occurring? Why are more couples with 20 and 30 years of marriage calling it quits? And what do you need to know and plan for during this type of divorce?
These divorces are occurring for all of the same reasons as divorces in the younger groups – infidelity, financial differences, physical/emotional abuse, addiction, and more recently COVID lockdowns. There are other reasons though for these occurrences.
As Empty Nesters, these couples over 50 years old, have done the work to rear their children, send them off to college or into the workforce, and when they look at one another, they don’t know who that person is looking back at them. They’ve been so busy with work and the kids, they’ve likely neglected their personal relationship, and that no longer exists as they’d anticipated. They don’t relate to one another, they don’t enjoy the same activities, and maybe they even argue more without the kid's home as a buffer. They’ve grown apart and are at best roommates.
And now that people in society are living longer, these individuals want to be happy. Not tied to this unknown spouse for the next 20-30 years, or more. Maybe they’ve changed during these decades of marriage and want new things. They have new dreams and feel the spouse is holding them back. They’re looking for meaning and fulfillment in their lives and it’s not accessible within the confines of the marriage. They are no longer in alignment, and they are no longer happy.
There is markedly less stigma now to divorce than there has been in the past. Back in the day, divorce was frowned upon; their parents and older family members wouldn’t have been too keen on the idea of divorce; perhaps there would have been gossip and side-eye glances. Now with a close to a 50% divorce rate, it’s more normalized and accepted.
Even in the church, the staff and congregants are likely more open and tolerant of divorce. Many churches have divorce programs or support groups, which have been established to help individuals and families move through this easier. Pushing families away from the church doesn’t allow them to find a sense of community in which to find healing, it shuns them and closes them off from connection when they need it most. I’ve always loved the phrase, “church is a hospital for the sinners, not a museum for the saints.” And I think many churches have stepped up and been a source of help versus closing their doors to those in need.
Falling Out of Love:
After so many years of marriage, it is often said that couples divorcing, “fell out of love”. It’s true that often those warm and fuzzy feelings may fade, and coupled with busy schedules they may have lacked the time or energy they needed to sustain that necessary level of physical and emotional connection. I get it. Life is busy, and we often put things on the back burner. But after a while, the neglect of a relationship takes its toll. There weren’t date nights, fun and deep conversations. There wasn’t fun or nurturing connections or meaningful physical contact. It’s a culmination of a lot, but it can be the end of a marriage. And maybe that routine just became monotonous and boring; too predictable and stagnant.
So, what do you do about the issues that arise through the process of “gray divorce”?
There are several key considerations to take into account when you are dealing with this type of divorce.
If you’ve been married for a longer period of time, you’ve likely accumulated more “stuff” – being physical stuff as well as monetary stuff.
There are likely investments, pensions, savings, life insurance and portfolios to look at. There may be time-shares, rental homes, and investment properties too. Additionally, there could be RVs, boats, collectibles and jewelry. Don’t forget about any businesses you may have together or life insurance policies in effect. The list could go on, but I think you get the idea.
It's a lot to untangle and work out. It’s a lot of money to divide properly. And you may need a financial advisor to help you get it straight. Hiring a CDFA, a certified divorce financial analyst can help you figure out how to progress through a divorce process. If there are potential “hidden assets”, a forensic account may be another beneficial addition to your divorce team.
Having a crystal clear picture of your finances gives you the best possible opportunity for a good outcome.
The primary home, the family home, can be a tricky one. It’s not only a financial asset, but it is also a sentimental piece of property. This may be a harder decision whether to keep or sell the family home.
If there are younger kids involved, it may be a smoother transition to keep the house at the beginning to afford them a sense of normalcy. But that isn’t always available to either party. And sometimes the “fresh start” is what both spouses want.
Talking to a CDLP, certified divorce lending professional, can help you structure a settlement that might allow for keeping or selling the house in the most equitable way.
Spousal support can be a little tricky when coming into retirement age or if you’re already there. How long do you get support? Does it stay consistent throughout when retirement and/or social security benefits occur? These are all points to be negotiated so you can receive adequate financial support even in retirement.
If your ex has been the provider for healthcare under his employment, do you have other benefits through your employer or do you need to find an outside provider until you are eligible for Medicare? Then it’s how does that get paid and for how long?
To some the idea of starting over in their 50’s or 60’s can be daunting. To others it’s liberating. Either way you now have the freedom to try new things, travel new places, and enjoy new experiences.
Looking at this new era of your life in a positive way can lead to amazing explorations to reignite your life, find new hobbies and activities, and make the most of what lies ahead. Rely on friends and family, create new connections, and stretch past your comfort zone.
Take time to prioritize your mental and physical health. Create habits and practices in your life that help reduce stress and encourage you to get out and move your body. Keeping active and refusing to allow isolation to creep in will promote a healthy lifestyle into retirement.
At the end of the day, no matter what, divorce is hard. Whether a divorce in your 30’s or a divorce in your 60’s. It’s managing your emotions, finding support through the process and working with professionals to get you the best possible outcome.